Monday, May 23, 2011

Opening Weekend at Canterbury Park

The rain was a constant threat, and an occasional reality, for all of opening weekend at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, MN this weekend, but that did nothing to damper the enthusiasm of fans to have live racing back in in the Twin Cities.

A crowd of 5,818 came out to greet the returning horses and horsemen on the opening Friday night.  On a gorgeous spring night this would be a bit of a disappointment, but with rain throughout the day and threatening skies it was a pleasant surprise.  A large Preakness Day crowd of 8,139 came to see two big upsets in the first stakes of the season and, of course, an upset in the Preakness Stakes to boot.  Sunday was affected by the heavy rain and storms that rampaged through the area, causing a tornado to touchdown in Minneapolis.  All the races on the card were completed but attendance was understandably sparse.

A late scratch changed the complexion of Saturday’s Lady Slipper Stakes as morning line favorite and 2010 Champion Older Mare Bella Notte was scratched in the morning.  The additional defection of Nokomis dropped the field to six and left Chick Fight as the sole speed in the six furlong sprint.
Going postward as the odds on favorite, Chick Fight, under jockey Dean Butler, went to the front as expected over the drying out race track but could not shake loose, stalked by Hidden Gold and Derek Bell.  Bell moved Hidden Gold even with the favorite through the turn and she kicked on down the lane to outfinish last year’s champion Special Occasion.

“I’ve been waiting two years to outrun that horse,” said Bell after the race regarding the speedy favorite.

Trained by Francisco Bravo, Hidden Gold returned 21.40, 7.00 and 3.40.

In the six furlong 10,000 Lakes, the top three choices, Rustic Road, defending champion Bizet and last year’s top 3-year old Bet Your Boots hooked up on the front end.  With a hundred yards to go the race looked like a three horse affair until Freedom First, under David Cardoso, started picking up horses on the far outside.  With only one horse beat on the turn for home, Freedom First was flying down the lane and picked off the tiring threesome before the wire. 

Trainer Larry Donlin said, “Going into the race we knew there was a lot of speed.  We figured we’d let him settle and then see what develops.  I was hoping for third as he was coming up on the outside.  A few strides later I thought, ‘holy cow, he’s going win this!’”  

At 15-1, Freedom First paid $33.40, $14.60 and $11.20.

All three days provided a lot of exciting finishes and stretch runs which is hopefully a portent of things to come over the summer.  Even though there were some smaller fields due to scratches on Sunday, there were several fields throughout the weekend that boasted more than 10 starters.  With the horse population already larger than it was last season, it’s hoped that these larger fields can continue leading to more lucrative wagering opportunities and, as gamblers get word of the larger fields, greater handle.

In the background, racino legislation continues to languish at the Capitol with only a single hearing held in each chamber.  However, with no budget deal in the making and no deal on a new Vikings stadium the legislature is virtually certain to be called into special session and racino legislation could be included in the final budget deal.  Last minute legislation was already filed to tie funding of a new stadium to the opening of a racino.  That is a battle that will go down to wire but while that battle is fought in St. Paul, live racing is in Shakopee and it’s finally spring in Minnesota.

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